Comics Explode into Pop Culture
The Ninth in a Series Examining Green Lantern History
Hollywood (Emerald) Knights
As the 20th Century was drawing to a close the paths between the comic book medium and Hollywood entertainment began to intersect more and more. In 1999 Green Lantern was seen on the small screen for the first time in thirteen years as part of the Bruce Timm led resurgence of the animated DC Universe. The Superman: The Animated Series episode “In Brightest Day” introduced Green Lantern to a new generation of kids via an amalgam of Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan complete with a reworking of the Silver Age origin and the threat of Sinestro.
On the printed page DC Comics was starting to question their previous treatment of Hal Jordan and in 1999 published Day of Judgement, a limited series in which the Spectre lost his human host when Jim Corrigan ascended to Heaven and left the embodiment of God’s wrath to be manipulated by forces seeking to unleash chaos on Earth. The series would ultimately result in the Spectre choosing a purgatory-bound Hal Jordan as his new host. It’s been rumored that the original pitch for the story called for the Spectre to be bonded with the Enchantress yet still returning Hal Jordan to the land of the living. The original pitch and subsequent story were written by an upcoming writer for DC Comics…..Geoff Johns. A new Hal Jordan hosted Spectre series would launch two years later with J.M. DeMatteis writing of Hal’s struggle to turn the Spirit of Vengeance into the Spirit of Redemption.
In 2001 Bruce Timm would launch Justice League as the heir apparent to the Superfriends throne, this time serving as an accessible gateway to and embracing the rich DC Comics’ history. Looking to provide diversity Timm chose John Stewart as the show’s Green Lantern and reworked his backstory to incorporate a military background, an element that would soon become a canonical part of John’s comic book history. Through the series viewers got exposed to the Green Lantern mythology as several characters like Kilowog and Katma Tui would feature in some of the episodes. Thanks to his weekly exploits John Stewart would rise in popularity, featuring as a guest star on the Static Shock animated series and in all the Justice League merchandising. John would go on to be a mainstay in the Justice League comic book series.
Social Relevance 2.0
After Ron Marz left the main Green Lantern series and Jay Faerber provided a few fill-in issues, writer Judd Winick took over to helm Kyle Rayner’s adventures which continued to feature John Stewart as a mentor of sorts for Rayner. Alan Scott’s daughter, Jade, would provide a romantic angle that also strengthened ties between the new Green Lantern mythology and its Golden Age roots. Rayner would also shine on the pages of JLA under the pen of Grant Morrison. Alan Scott would get plenty of spotlight himself as Geoff Johns gave him and the rest of the Golden Age characters plenty of spotlight in an acclaimed run on JSA, the modern incarnation of the Justice Society of America.
Before Marz left the series he and editor Bob Shreck created a teenager named Terry Berg to complement Kyle Rayner’s supporting cast as an art assistant for Rayner. Shreck, himself openly bisexual, and Marz created Berg in part to talk about the challenges facing gay teenagers who struggle with their sexuality. Winick had risen to fame for his work on Pedro and Me, a graphic novel that chronicled the life of his friend and Real Life co-star Pedro Zamora who passed away from complications of the AIDS virus and picked up where Marz had left the Terry Berg character.
Under Winick’s guidance, Berg would develop a crush on Rayner and struggle with the intolerance that came with being a young gay man. Over time Winick would use the friendship between Kyle and Terry to help the character open up about his sexuality and embrace his individuality, eventually coming out to his family and developing a relationship with another young man. The storyline would result in a headline-making comic as Terry was brutally beaten and left in a coma by those who opposed his lifestyle in Green Lantern #154 and 155.
2002 would see the beginning of a change of direction for DC Comics’ approach to the Green Lantern franchise. Writer Joe Kelly would craft Legacy: The Last Will and Testament of Hal Jordan, a graphic novel that would revolve around the relationship between Hal Jordan and Tom Kalmaku while paving the way for the return of the Green Lantern mythology by restoring both Oa and Kilowog. Following that Kyle Rayner would surrender the power of Ion to restore the power to the central power battery and bring back the Guardians of the Universe. DC Comics would bring the Hal Jordan led Spectre series to a close and bring Ron Marz back to finish out the Kyle Rayner era as the main Green Lantern series also ended.
Kyle would appear in animated form again as he made appearances in the revamped Justice League animated series, Justice League Unlimited, where John Stewart continued to have a major presence. Hal Jordan and the Green Lantern Corps would feature prominently in the “Green Loontern” episode of Duck Dodgers in the 24 1/2th Century cartoon series. Hal Jordan was having a bit of a renaissance, appearing as a prominent figure in Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier, a six-issue limited series which won an Eisner, Harvey, and Shuster Award. Hal also served as the inspiration for a scene in the WB Network show Summerland where two teenagers engaged in Green Lantern trivia after talking about how they thought DC Comics would return him to the printed page.
Hal would indeed return in 2004 as Geoff Johns, joined by artist Ethan VanSciver, would craft Green Lantern: Rebirth, a six-issue limited series that would serve as the launching point for a return of the Silver Age mythology retooled for the 21st Century. The series was launched in part to jump-start the franchise which had once again fallen in sales as well as act as the final effort to appease the legion of fans who never stopped lobbying to get back the mythology that they’d lost ten years earlier.
Rebirth would separate Hal Jordan from both the Spectre and Parallax, providing both a plausible explanation for Hal’s actions and addressing a number of missteps with the character over the years while building a more emotional connection between the loss of his father and what being a Green Lantern represents. Johns was both hailed and criticized for elements of the story which exonerated Jordan and neatly reset the Green Lantern universe to a place familiar with long-time fans. Johns would leave Kyle Rayner intact and have Kyle and Hal shake hands in mutual respect as if to symbolize the end of the infamous “Hal/Kyle” fan struggles. Van Sciver would redefine Hal Jordan’s classic uniform and add new visual elements for the Green Lantern universe which helped create a whole new jumping-on point for readers. The series would see multiple printings due to the overwhelming popularity and Johns would use the success to launch a new volume of the main Green Lantern title as well as a second Green Lantern Corps ongoing series.
The Emerald Tide
In 2006 Warner Brothers Interactive released Justice League Heroes, the first video game inspired by the DC Comics super team. While the game didn’t perform well it marked the first appearance of Green Lantern in the video game medium, featuring John Stewart as one of the main characters and offering both Kyle Rayner and Hal Jordan as character skins for the Green Lantern character. Later that year Green Lantern would once again be referenced by a prime time television show in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy in which a child was comforted by the knowledge that the character is still a hero without his power ring.
Green Lantern was about to burst onto the pop culture scene as the character saw a rise in popularity due, in large part, to the success of the relaunched comics series and the success of the 2007 Sinestro Corps War storyline. Hal Jordan would appear on several episodes of The Batman animated series and several members of the Green Lantern Corps showed up regularly on the Batman: The Brave and the Bold animated show on the Cartoon Network. Jordan would figure prominently in the animated adaptation of DC: The New Frontier in one of the first in a series of DC direct to video animated features.
Green Lantern references became a regular part of the hugely successful television comedy The Big Bang Theory as part of set decorations, wardrobe, and dialogue. Hal Jordan was featured as one of the main characters in the 2008 video game Mortal Kombat vs. DC Universe which sold well and continued to promote the character in popular culture.
On the pages of the comics, Peter Tomasi and Geoff Johns were regularly striking gold with the Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps titles with the main series often cracking the top ten on the sales charts. Silver Age characters like the Shark, Hector Hammond, and Black Hand got fresh modern treatments that resonated with fans. Arguably the greatest innovation for the Green Lantern mythology was the theory of the emotional spectrum. It built upon the history fans had come to know but expanded it exponentially by creating seven different factions wielding power rings fueled by different colored energy representative of various emotions. The ROYGBIV Lanterns weren’t without their detractors who thought the concept diluted what was special about the Green Lantern Corps. However new characters like Saint Walker, Atrocitus, Larfleeze, and Dex-Starr gained in popularity and have become an integral part of Green Lantern lore.
2009 would begin the apex of popularity for the Green Lantern as Blackest Night became a huge comic book event that captured the hearts of fans everywhere. DC Comics offered free power rings representing the various factions of the emotional spectrum which helped promote the mythology and convention floors saw hundreds of fans wearing t-shirts and costumes as all the Corps found representation. DC Direct would release a number of limited edition Hal Jordan figures as various lanterns in the emotional spectrum at the San Diego Comic-Con which quickly became highly prized collectibles. Green Lantern merchandising, from Pez dispensers to high-quality statues, seemed to appear everywhere.
In response to all the attention readers were giving the Green Lantern universe Warner Brothers released Green Lantern: First Flight, a feature-length animated film that focused on the fall of Sinestro and his eventual defeat at the hands of his trainee, Hal Jordan. The film made its money back but didn’t perform well enough to warrant a direct sequel.
In 2010 fans tuned in to the Cartoon Network to enjoy the new DC Nation programming block and the Young Justice animated series which periodically showed Hal Jordan, John Stewart, and Guy Gardner in cameo appearances. Meanwhile, Alan Scott would appear however briefly in a flashback reference to the JSA on an episode of the popular primetime Superman television series, Smallville.
Guy Gardner, Hal Jordan, Arisia, and Sinestro also showed up as characters in a video game inspired by the Batman: The Brave and the Bold cartoon. The nerd-rock band Kirby Krackle released the Hal Jordan / Sinestro themed song “Ring Capacity” which became one of their most popular songs and eventually ended up as a downloadable song for the Rock Band video game franchise. But by the end of the year the unthinkable happened when Warner Brothers began production on a live-action Green Lantern motion picture starring Ryan Reynolds which became one of the most highly anticipated films of 2011.
As the June 17th, 2011 release date for Green Lantern approached the publicity surrounding the film created big expectations for the film. Warner Brother announced that a sequel to the unreleased movie was already being worked on. A second direct to video animated feature, Green Lantern: Emerald Knights, would be an anthology film that provided spotlights on various members of the Corps as Hal Jordan mentored Arisia during an assault by Krona. Hal Jordan would continue to be the face of the Green Lantern franchise in an ongoing series of direct to video productions featuring the Justice League.
A video game, Green Lantern: Rise of the Manhunters, was released which featured Ryan Reynolds as the voice of Hal Jordan as he fought against an attack on Oa by Amon Sur, who felt he was the rightful heir to his father’s ring. DC Comics would run an ad for an astronomer’s group in England in the pages of their comics which would lead to participation in an alternate reality game that allowed fans to interact with Amanda Waller.
Six Flags built a number of Green Lantern themed thrill rides and the film saw merchandising tie-ins with Subway, Reeses, Frito Lay, and Brisk Tea which created a Green Lantern beverage. Mattel launched two different action figure lines in support of the film, one which included spring-loaded constructs that could change between two different configurations.
Mattel also created some action role-play toys including a gun construct that fired green energy disks. The Cartoon Network announced that Bruce Timm was working on a Green Lantern animated series that would debut in the fall and become a part of their “DC Nation” programming block. The movie’s release came with it a harsh response from critics and fans alike as the film failed to live up to the expectations that the hype generated. The film was widely panned for its script which failed to make Hal Jordan a character that a general audience could get behind and appeared to lack a general focus. The special effects, which relied heavily on CGI, were hit and miss. The film would gross $231.2 million worldwide at the box office and went on to earn another $46.1 million in home video sales. The film failed to generate the results that Warner Brothers had hoped and plans for the sequel dissipated, however despite the box office results Green Lantern was still selected for “favorite movie superhero” at the next People’s Choice Awards.
The Green Lantern comics universe expanded two-fold as both Red Lanterns and Green Lantern: New Guardians would debut to feed the hunger of fans who wanted to see more adventures of the rest of the Corps of the emotional spectrum. In November of 2011, the Cartoon Network would air a special presentation of Green Lantern: The Animated Series which performed very well from both a ratings and demographic perspective. The special presentation would warrant two nominations for Annie Awards ahead of its 2012 official arrival.
All Good Things….
The performance of the Green Lantern motion picture led Warner Brothers to slow down the pace of building a cinematic universe, but the impact of the merchandising sales severely hampered the Green Lantern Saturday morning animated series. While three maquettes were produced for adult fans retailers were less than willing to place orders for a toy line while they struggled to clear shelves of the movie toys which they purchased in great quantities based on the hype for the movie. Mattel did produce prototypes for the figure but with no retailer willing to order them the line never went into production. A McDonald’s Happy Meal campaign would result in a few products but the lack of a retail toy line would doom the series.
While Green Lantern: The Animated Series would produce great ratings for the Cartoon Network the bottom line was that despite the show’s performance there was no way for the show to continue from a purely financial standpoint. The budget for the CGI animated show was nearly $1 million per episode and required the licensing revenue from the toy line to stay on the air. After one season the show, which gathered a large faithful following and had received three Annie Award nominations, would not be renewed for a second season.
Alan Scott would make headlines in 2012 when DC Comics announced that their “New 52” reboot would retire the Golden Age versions of their characters in favor of modern interpretations. The Earth-2 Green Lantern would be openly gay much as his son, Obsidian, had been, but as a more marquee name would gather a great deal of interest.
Hal Jordan continued to be the face of Green Lantern to the general public, appearing in a new animated film continuity, a major marketing campaign with the Target retail chain, and as a major character in the Injustice: Gods Among Us video game which also offered John Stewart as a skin for the character. Even as Warner Brothers slowed the pace of their DC film universe on television both the Arrow and Flash television series were revitalizing superheroes on the small screen. Both shows have had multiple references to Coast City, Ferris Aircraft, and a missing pilot but while Ollie and Barry have thrived on television their friend Hal Jordan remains out of the picture. Green Lantern references would continue to appear on The Big Bang Theory and an episode of One Tree Hill would use Hal’s power ring to help a young boy deal with his fears.
In 2013 Geoff Johns announced that he would be leaving the main Green Lantern series in part due to his expanding role as the Chief Creative Officer for DC Entertainment. Three months later his nine-year run on the character would culminate in a large oversize issue which would wrap up a number of plot threads and leave the Green Lantern Corps without leaders in the wake of Sinestro’s murder of the Guardians of the Universe. Robert Venditti would take over the series and Van Jensen replaced Peter Tomasi when he left the Green Lantern Corps series along with Johns. As the Johns era led to a great deal of expansion for the Green Lantern universe, Venditti and Jensen stripped away some of the layers.
Carol Ferris and Hal Jordan would once again break up and Carol would transition to the Green Lantern: New Guardians series where she would develop romantic feelings for Kyle Rayner, a decision which left many fans shaking their heads. Kyle left his green ring behind to become the sole White Lantern in the universe through his mastery of all seven emotions. Sinestro finally got his own series and Guy Gardner would find himself leading the Red Lantern Corps. Venditti made major changes to Green Lantern lore by changing the origins of the emotional energy which fuels the power rings, vilifying the Green Lantern Corps in the eyes of the universe at large, and destroying both Oa and the Blue Lantern Corps. A new crop of Guardians would leave Hal Jordan in charge of the Green Lanterns as they struggled to regain the honor of the Corps and ultimately Jordan would voluntarily shoulder the burden by going renegade and taking Krona’s power gauntlet to go it alone.
DC Comics would do some retooling and ultimately cancel Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, and Red Lanterns. John Stewart and Guy Gardner would find new homes in a Cullen Bunn penned Green Lantern: The Lost Army series while Hal and Sinestro would continue to headline their own books. Kyle Rayner would seemingly face his demise on the pages of a revived Omega Men series however there is more to the story than was initially revealed which continues to unfold. Green Lantern would appear on the big screen again in 2014, however this time in Lego form as part of the animated Lego Movie. Guy Gardner and Hal Jordan have since appeared in several Lego/DC Comics animated films and video games with the Lantern lore featuring heavily in the Lego Batman 3: Beyond Gotham game. The Green Lantern mythology would also play a major part in the Warner Brothers Interactive DC Universe Online massive multiplayer online game. and the Infinite Crisis MOBA game.
Rumors had circulated that Warner Brothers was planning on making a Green Lantern / Flash buddy movie as part of their plans to develop a DC Cinematic Universe those rumors were proven untrue when the studio announced a Green Lantern reboot scheduled for 2020 which has yet to make it out of development. Since the announcement in 2014, the film was re-titled Green Lantern Corps, implying that the film would focus on several members of the Corps. Several actors including Chis Pine and Tyrese Gibson have been tied to the Hal Jordan and John Stewart roles as have several others who’ve gone on social media to hint that they are somehow tied to the film.
As Green Lantern reaches the 75th anniversary of that first appearance back in All-American Comics #16 the one thing that is certain is that the mythology and lore that has endured for these past decades will continue in one form or another. Through reboots, re-launches, and the emergence of new ways to experience the superhero experience Green Lantern has remained a constant in an ever-changing landscape. Heroes rise and fall but no matter how dark the Blackest Night becomes we can count on the emerald light of will to continue to shine through.